Jewish survivors of the Holocaust have closed yet another chapter in a unique case, in which not Germany but the US was the side charged. The US was not quick to come clean in the "Hungarian gold train" affair.
The US did not return confiscated gold to Holocaust survivors
After years of litigation, Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and US officials have agreed to settle a suit over gold, silver, art and other valuables stolen by the Nazis and confiscated by the US after World War II.
During a three-year court battle, Holocaust survivors had alleged that US officers looted a train filled with valuables that Nazis had seized from Hungarian Jews. As many as 30,000 survivors filed the class-action suit, each one having sought a financial award of up to $10,000 (€7,400). Details of what is believed to be the first suit against the US over property stolen by the Nazis are not yet available.
"I think everyone is glad that we got to this point and they are appreciative and they feel that (the agreement) is appropriate under the circumstances given the length of time for the litigation," said the plaintiffs' attorney, Samuel Dubbin.
The treasures had been stolen from Hungarian Jews by the government of the Third Reich and were being transported to Switzerland during the closing days of the war. That's when troops intercepted the train in Werfen, Austria.
Booty for officers and personnel
Many Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz
According to government documents, some of the property was requisitioned by US military officers to furnish homes and offices, sold in army commissaries or kept by military personnel. Some of the works of art were handed to the Austrian government. At the time of the seizure, the estimated value of the goods ranged from $50 million to $200 million and today could be up to 10 times as much.
"This settlement is not about restituting money, it's about restituting history," said Gideon Taylor, vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. "This is a moral step by the US to acknowledge the past."
For some survivors, the case has left a bitter taste in their mouth. One plaintiff, Irene Tibor, 82, said she does not know how much her family lost when they were evicted from their Budapest apartment. She added that she does not understand why the US gives "everything to old enemies – even enemies" but not to the "poor old people" living in Miami.
US tried to stonewall suit
The trial stemmed from a US presidential commission report in 1999 that detailed the events of 1945. When attorneys then filed suit on behalf of the survivors in a US District Court in Miami in 2001, the government invoked a statute of limitations and state immunity.
Capitol Hill pressured government to reach settlement
A judge lifted the limitations before ordering the sides to negotiate. Furthermore, various groups and members of congress pressured the Department of Justice to reach a deal. One of those members was Senator Hillary Clinton who said she was grateful that the government was "providing long overdue redress to these men and women." A finalized agreement is set to be submitted by Feb. 18.